05 January 2006

Graveyard yields secrets of ancient world


By Shane Harrison
BBC NI Dublin Correspondent

Residents of the village of Nobber, north Meath, in the Republic of Ireland, stumbled upon archaeological treasure when they decided to clean up an old graveyard.

Now they are hoping that tombs in the shape of Celtic crosses, dating back 1100 years, will put them on the map, alongside such famous archaeological sites as Newgrange.

The old graveyard at Nobber, North Meath

Until recently, the graveyard in the village of Nobber, about two hours' drive from Dublin, was overgrown with weeds and briars.

It is surrounded by evergreen trees and bushes, a church that has fallen into disrepair and the remains of a medieval monastery.

It took 12 men nearly two years working at night and at weekends, in all four seasons to clear up Mother Nature's mess. She rewarded them in full.

Richard Clarke, a volunteer worker, said the graveyard was very neglected.

"We started in, basically, with our hands and clippers and spades and any little thing at all that would break down some of the old vegetation that had overgrown the place," he said.

Celtic crosses

In the course of cleaning up the wind-swept cemetery, they found small concrete tomb stones, like Celtic crosses, some less than a foot high.

Graves, they now know, that date back to the 10th century.

Archaeologists, like Professor George Eogan, an expert on Newgrange, are excited by the discovery.

He said it proves that this north Meath townland with its own monastery, was significant in the relatively early Christian times.

"It certainly, was an outstanding place around the 10th century. It was one of the leading sites in Ireland at that earlier period," Professor Eogan said.

But the small weather-beaten tombs, with their fading etched marks were not all that was found in the clean-up.

Local people also discovered evidence of a church built in the 12th century and medieval tomb stones lying flat on the ground with elaborate designs and concrete carvings of kneeling men.

Tony McEntee, who helped organise the tidy up, said Nobber should be very proud of its voluntary workers.

"Were it not for all the work that these men put in, these discoveries would never have been known," he said.

The one-street village of Nobber is a small, agricultural community on the Navan to Kingscourt Road.

People, including the Fine Gael TD Shane McEntee, now hope to capitalise on the discovery and make their village a major tourist attraction.

"To get jobs into the area is an issue but the fact is that you have something here, a home-grown industry that people are very proud of - it would be great to put the whole package together."

A simple tidy up has paid rich dividends.

the church in Nobber Graveyard is a family home and is not in disrepair.
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